Anyone can write out “Ales Hemsky B+” when it comes time to make out a report card for the team. We at the Nation have decided instead to rate different parts of the team, including Heart. Not the ‘80s band heart pictured above, but team heart and a desire to win.
The heart of the franchise: C+
We rigged up a satellite dish at OilersNation HQ to watch the Oil play Minnesota on December 30th, at the same time watching the Patriots play the Giants in pursuit of a perfect season. While we understand that the Oilers are not the Pats—the Pats would have a worse powerplay, we would hope—there are some common things you can look at for both teams. Do the Oilers possess that intense will to win that all great teams display?
You could make the argument that the game against the Ducks on the 27th of December was a prime example of why the Oilers are currently sitting 14th in the conference. Tied 1-1 on home ice, they lacked the killer instinct to put the game away. Take away the shoot-out heroics this team possesses and the Oil are in rough shape this year. Too many times down the home stretch of a game the Oilers are turning over pucks, and getting scored against to lose crucial games.
There’s a hell of a supporting cast here, a great crop of rookies and an able if young defensive corps. But we think that the missing X-factor in the team this year is that killer instinct that so often shakes teams out of slumps, scores the key goals down the stretch and snags points they don’t necessarily deserve. How long has it been since you’ve heard, read or seen an announcer say “The Oilers didn’t deserve the win tonight. They mailed in the first two periods but scored a quick pair in the third to pull out a win”?
One could argue that the Oilers have been missing their leaders Moreau and Pisani this year, so we didn’t give them too low a grade. However, we think that the heart and soul of the franchise is suiting up for the Avalanche, and what we are witnessing since Smytty’s departure is how a team plays when its heart has been ripped from its chest.
When the LA Lakers faced the abyss of mediocrity a few years back, they went and rehired Super Coach Phil Jackson and brought him in to reinstate the winning identity in the Lakers locker room. When the Oilers went from Cup finalists to missing the playoffs last year, with a disastrous stretch drive that saw them win three games, little was changed from a coaching perspective.
Has the current coaching regime really brought that much success to the franchise over the past eight years? It’s becoming more and more difficult to even describe the type of play we call “Oilers hockey.”
Are they a defensive-minded team?
They have the second worst goals against total in the Western Conference, indicating that the message of playing sound defensive hockey MacT preaches is not getting through to rich little underperforming ears.
Are they a young-guns team looking to shoot it out each and every night?
The fact that the Oil are 9th in the West in goals scored is a misleading fact, sporting the worst powerplay in the league. Yet MacT and company allow rookies like Rob Schremp to languish in the AHL. Schremp has been called “the best half-boards powerplay man in the AHL” by Springfield Coach Kelly Buchburger. Pardon our saying so, but what part of a 30th ranked powerplay doesn’t require a long-term tryout by a once top ranked prospect currently producing in the farm system? “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is certainly a valid statement. So where did “if it’s completely broke, don’t fix it” become the motto for the Oilers’ powerplay department?
Is it so hard to think that star offensive players don’t want to be coached by someone who is looking to mold 23 players in his defensive image? MacT scored 331 points in 701 career games as an Oiler. During the heyday of the 1980s mind you, when assistant trainer Ken Lowe would be credited with assists regularly on powerplay goals. Can MacT really be the guy to tell Sam Gagner how to elevate his game to the next level? With the exception of Ales Hemsky, what rookie has developed into an impact player under his coaching?
MacT’s refusal to ice a meaningful heavyweight, instead preaching “team toughness,” has led to a record amount of injuries in the past two years—something not seen during the Laraque era. Promoting the idea that there are plenty of players that will fight and stand up for teammates has led to Moreau missing nearly an entire season due to a shoulder injury suffered in a fight, and Ales Hemsky taking more shots than Pamela Anderson when she was married to Tommy Lee.
Rather than crying that players don’t want to play in Edmonton, maybe a different question needs to be asked: is it so hard to think that a coaching change might attract different players?
GM K-Lowe: B-
One could make a case that Kevin Lowe did all he could this summer to rebuild the team and was cruelly rebuffed by so many free agents. When Wade Redden—local boy, outstanding defenceman—vetoes a trade to come back out West there’s something seriously wrong.
Acres of newsprint and hours of video have gone into explaining away all the “reasons” why the Oil are hard-up to sign top talent. But we’re wondering if it’s just because players don’t like the city. Is it so hard to think that there might be something in the organization that they don’t like? It’s easier to revamp the management, than create massive climate-changing equipment, making Edmonton warmer in the winter.
It’s impossible to see how Lowe operates behind closed doors. But remember that he was the man who went out and got Pronger, who lured Peca and his horse teeth out here in the first place, and put together the team that made The Run possible. Now we all know how that off-season went, but with the exception of Pronger, none of those players have really amounted to a hill of crap since they left.
But Lowe was also the man who let Captain Canada leave for $100,000, and traded Jason Smith away to get rid of the blue chip player that came our way for Pronger. Rather than sitting back and seeing how the team rebounded with its new free agent signings, and evaluating Lowe on that basis, the EIG in its infinite wisdom awarded Lowe a four-year contract renewal one game into the season. One has to wonder how much that has to do with profitability, instead of on ice performance.
Nonetheless, we’ll leave the jury out on the matter of Lowe, and see how he performs down the stretch. Hopefully it’s better than the powerplay unit he’s built.